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Old 07-20-2010, 09:02 PM   #1
charlie.cross2
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Car Jerks and Hesitates bad at Low RPM, Uphill..

Hello,

My car is an 02' Sedan Lx (manual), with the 2.0 SPI under the hood. I'll start when everything started in case they are related. Last year (december) my car wouldn't start after sitting for about 2 days. Then 1 day. So I figured it was the battery, changed it, problem solved. About a month later same thing, and the battery was bad. Got a new one and I'm on the second battery still yet it has randomly been unable to start the car, and constantly causes the battery light to come on when I sit idle, unless the gas is pressed, then it goes away.

About a month and a half ago I started losing power more than normal when going up hills. Then slowly the engine started sounding harsher and harsher @ idle. Soon after, my car would lunge and jerk when starting in 1st, and second. Then it got to where the engine was hesitating and sputtering in all gears. First I had my alternator checked, for the battery issue alone, and I thought maybe somehow it could be screwing with the engine timing, or injector timing? The machine said I had extremely high ripple, and the guy said it wasn't dead yet but soon would be.

Anyway, it got almost un-drivable, to the point where I would stall out trying to get off at a red light, so I took it to a guy down the street (my sister said was good.) He did a diagnostic and he said that my ignition coil was bad, and that the alternator threw a code. Well I got the coil replaced and it was like night and day for about... a day. Now the same jerking is coming back and getting worse. Would the alternator (I don't believe so) have any play here? The car has about 125k on it, all regular oil changes, I changed the plugs and wires about 50k ago, but have driven hard (delivery) since. Could it be just plugs and wires, causing the hard misfires? I don't wanna throw parts at it, any help would be appreciated. Sorry for the rant but I wanted to be as detailed as I could. Thank!


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Old 07-20-2010, 09:29 PM   #2
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Has your gas mileage changed alot since the problem started. There is suppose to be a few ways to check your Catalyst converter. A constant misfire can cause the cat to go bad.

Vacuum at 2500 rpm compared to idle should have a difference of 10 in. Hg.

I wish there was an easier way to check for free flow in the cat.
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Old 07-20-2010, 11:41 PM   #3
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that sounds like your alternator or a connection to it. a new battery is very robust and can usually pick up the slack in a dying alternator for a while, but soon enough your back to the same problem. you need to load test the battery and run an alternator test to see what voltage you put out at idle. if its not doing enough then yea- the fuel and ignition systems cant work optimally. is the problem worse with headlights and hvac on high? that strains the chagring system even more and can point you in the right direction.

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Old 07-21-2010, 08:55 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charlie.cross2 View Post
Could it be just plugs and wires, causing the hard misfires?
Yes absolutely. Follow enough of my threads and you'll find a common theme. For engine running problems, I always recommend that the owner go through typical "tune-up" maintenance first before assuming a larger mechanical problem. I just went through this with a guy who said he'd changed his plugs recently and there was no reason to check them. After about a week, I guess he got bored and found that 3 plugs were physically damaged.

Now in your case if you are able to DIY your own spark plugs, then in the future (and this time too) the first thing you should do is pull spark plugs and at least look at the deposits on the plugs. This can give you a clue as to what is happening inside the engine. Spark plug deposits are the first means of engine problem diagnosis. There are charts showing extreme examples of spark plug deposits all over the internet and on every auto service manual.

Ok, routine "tune-up" maintenance. All of this can be DIY if you have minor skills, can read, and own a few tools.
1) Spark plugs, be careful to get the correct plugs for your engine because SPI and Zetec use plugs in different heat ranges that are not compatible between the 2 engines. Watch what your parts guy is selecting because the engines are the same size. You might even want to check in the appropriate forum on here for spark plug part recommendations, and get your plugs by part number instead of relying on parts guys who may or may not understand anything.
2) Plug wires: for all daily drivers you need lifetime warranty plug wires that won't cost you money except the first time. The second time you buy another set, put the old set in the new set's box, and return them to get your money back. This way you can change plug wires any time something seems amiss with the engine and eliminate that possible cause.
3) Fuel filter- should be changed every 25k miles and is often over looked until the fuel pump goes out. Changing it regularly will very likely make your fuel pump last much longer.
4) Air filter- sometimes you don't even need any tools to change this one every 20k miles or so.
5) PCV valve- yes it is a routine maintenance part that should be changed out every 25-30k miles, and with most vehicle that require this part to be changed out costs about $5 and just pulls off. There is a vacuum line that goes from the intake manifold to the PCV, and this line is a common cause of low idle- sputtering issues when it ages and cracks at the rubber connections in the line. Rubber connections are available separately from parts stores usually nearby the PCV section.

Ok, there you go. No you are NOT throwing parts at a car to fix it by replacing- or at least inspecting these parts for proper operation. If the spark plugs are relatively new- pull them, clean them, and put them back in. Change out lifetime plug wires- no cost. If the fuel filter is less than 25k miles, then there's not much of a reason to change it unless you're just froggy.

You'd be highly surprised at how these simple to replace parts cause so many difficult to solve problems because people just want to pay a big bunch of money and assume complicated problems before even checking these extremely important parts.
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Old 07-21-2010, 08:57 AM   #5
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On a side note I really should make a How-To on this so I don't keep having to write it over and over, but I can type fast. Secondly, I don't think anyone would read it even if we linked it, but I might ask for some help from other engined FF's to provide pics of some of these parts when I have time.
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:29 AM   #6
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Thanks for the replies! I haven't noticed that much fluctuation in gas mileage, well other than me having to run the car hard to avoid the jerking.

And as far as checking the tune up stuff, thanks for the nudge in the right direction! I actually just started as a manager of on Autozone, so that will be the perfect opportunity to get most of my parts for stuff that does need replacing every 25-30k etc. Our system is actually pretty good on having job instructions, and basic diagrams for the compontents of things. So now I literally have no excuses!

I'm going to check the wiring to the alternator today, and some other things that I can get to easily. I'll keep this thread updated.

Oh and the tune up post does kinda sound like a good idea. Even though some of it seems trivial, for me at least, it's hard to think of the simple stuff for some reason, like a forrest for the trees issue. But if I could help by getting instructions for stuff not readily found, or to flesh out some instructions on basic maintenance from work, I'd love to do that.
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:45 AM   #7
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whynotthinkwhynot- yea we definately need a stickied troubleshooting guide, and you should be the mayor! nice job.
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Old 07-22-2010, 01:41 PM   #8
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Keep the alternator in mind as you progress with the basic tune-up project, and check threads on alt. pigtail/connector for a possible problem area.

There may be a "chicken or egg" issue here with the charging light at low rpm - worn out "tune-up" items can cause low or unstable idle, resulting in low alt. output - which makes the problem worse as the electronics don't work as well without good stable power...

On the other hand, a failing alternator can cause the issues by itself - so the regular maintenance, while needed, may not be the final solution...

As Whynot recommends, do the cheapest (and needed anyways) maint. first B4 assuming a more expensive or unusual issue - in your specific case there's some indication the alt. may be involved so the cheap checks there (connections) would be a good place to spend some time as well....
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Old 07-25-2010, 08:54 AM   #9
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Thumbs up **update**

Well I was going to drive the car to my autozone to get some plugs a couple days ago when it just wouldn't start at all. Towed with brother n' laws truck and was told the clutch switch was out. Fixed that got it back and the problem was still there (not that a clutch switch would matter too much anyway.)

I was able to make it to the zone, and got some motorcraft plugs. When I took the first plug out, I was like 'oh no,' as I didn't see any obvious damage. But when I took out the 2nd and 3rd plugs, the gaps on them were expanded to .062... Don't know if that would have contributed. So I got the new ones gapped, put em in, and the problem seems to have gone away!!! Though I still get some very very slight hesitation occasionally when trying to cruise at say 40-50mph in 4th or 5th gear.

I agree with the chicken or egg issue. I'm just so elated to not have to run the car hard off the line for the moment. But I feel like, if the situation deteriorates. It's gotta be something with the alternator's lack of output. I've taken a look at the connections, and I can't see anything out of the ordinary. I'm going to go today and get the voltage output, and do a standard alternator test. I'll post it here. Thanks again guys!
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Old 07-25-2010, 09:25 AM   #10
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My best advice for alternators is to find a local rebuilder. The lifetime warranties given at some parts stores are great- however, this alternator lasted about 100k miles before it started giving you issues, and if another one lasted that long- the car might be toast from other reasons by the time it went out. Finally- the cost difference is tremendous if you can handle being without the car for a day. When I had mine rebuilt locally it cost me $40. A rebuilt lifetime warranty alternator costs me $180. That's worth bumming a ride off someone to get to work during the week IMO- even if it has to happen for 2 days. You'll have to look in the yellow or business pages to find someone like that, and you might even have to ask some people. Look for something like "Joe's Armature" or Joe's Automotive Electrical Rebuilders- you get the drift. These places don't usually advertise on the internet because their customer base is all the independent shops in town who send them the alternator, then charge you the new part price on the invoice, and make you wait a week for it.

You will have to remove the alternator yourself, take it to them, pick it up, then re-install it. IMO, this is the cheapest and best way to get alternators and starters taken care of.

BTW good job on checking the gap. We have had plenty of problems on here with people installing "pre-gapped" plugs without checking, and ending up finding out later that the plugs all have different gaps. Yes, the alternator will affect how the vehicle runs just like good connections to the battery will save you much trouble. If you have to replace battery terminals avoid the old lead terminals and seek out stainless, brass, or copper.
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